Fast friends: Race for MiLB stolen base crown comes to fitting end

September 26th, 2023

It was a season-long race, completed 90 feet at a time.

With the regular season all but over in the Minor Leagues, the sprint to be the stolen base champion, perhaps fittingly, ended in a tie. Cardinals No. 4 prospect Victor Scott II appeared to edge Rays No. 21 Chandler Simpson, 95-94, but a scoring change after the regular season had concluded erased one of Scott's stolen bases. So, a pair of speedsters who were neck and neck all year finished the way they started: even.

And if their total seems like a lot, it’s because it is, with only two individual Minor Leaguers having racked up more stolen bases in a season since 2005 (Billy Hamilton stole 155 and Delino DeShields Jr. swiped 101 in 2012).

They left third-place finisher -- and No. 8 Mariners prospect -- Jonatan Clase (79) in the dust, but they never lost sight of each other as the outfielders with 80 speed kept tabs on stolen base totals all year long.

“I was always kind of peeking in on where Chan was throughout the season and I would call him,” Scott said on the MLB Pipeline Podcast. “I remember we first started and I was in the lead. And then it was over the halfway point and I guess Chan just started to run, to take ample bases at a time and his lead grew.

“With both of us being ultra competitors, I knew at one point I was going to have to catch him because if he wins, he’s going to have bragging rights, but I want bragging rights. It’s always a friendly competition.”

It’s clear both Scott and Simpson had a green light more often than not – Scott attempted 108 steals and Simpson 109. Even though their primary job is to get on base (Scott had a .369 OBP, Simpson won this race with a .373 rate) and steal, there must have been times where the baseball situation got in the way of just racking up the steals.

“Sometimes, I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to just go to get this lead so I can go to sleep at night,’” Simpson said. “Because if I didn’t, then I’m going to think about it and he’s going to call me. Sometimes I didn’t care, but sometimes I had to be smart about it.”

Though they shared the crown, each can lay claim that what they did was even harder than what their counterpart accomplished.

“Early in the season, when I was in High-A, I would just go and then I would have the upper hand because I guess speed would help me in that case,” said Scott, making a case for higher degree of difficulty. “As I got to Double-A, the catchers really started to catch and throw well, pitchers started to slide step, so I would go in my manager’s office and look at the videos on tendencies and see if I could get the upper hand in this race somehow.”

Simpson clearly needed to rebut his fast friend’s claim that his stolen base total was harder earned.

“I do care to respond,” Simpson said with a laugh. “I’m going to say the degree of difficulty was better but we have to take in the fact that he had 100 more ABs than me and 30 more games played. I’m not making excuses; I’m just letting that be known.”

The familiarity runs deeper than just this year’s stolen base race. Both Scott and Chandler hail from Atlanta and both were 2022 draftees from the college ranks. Their paths first officially crossed in the summer of 2021 when they both played for the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders in the summer wood bat Northwoods League. They’d play together again in the Cape Cod League, for Cotuit, in 2022, but it was in Fond du Lac that they realized they were cut from the same cloth.

“I heard when I was coming up there that there was a guy named Chandler Simpson on the team and he’s faster than you,” Scott said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t think anybody is faster than me but I’ll see.’ We ended up growing this bond. We both started trending in the upward direction and made a name for ourselves that summer.”

Scott recalled some games in Fond du Lac when Simpson would get on as the leadoff hitter, Scott would get on behind him and they’d double steal. The No. 3 hitter would single them in and it would be “2-0 within five minutes of the game.”

They’ve continued to give pitchers on the pro side fits, albeit in different organizations. But the question still remains: Who is the faster player? The two have raced on more than one occasion, in a variety of ways, and they’re even competitive in discussing who has had the edge.

“I’ll say it’s been a 50-50 split as to who has won in a straight line race and who has won in a turn of cone race,” Scott said.

“I’m going to say it’s been a 51-49 split,” Simpson replied. “Obviously it’s very close.”

There was a small chance that Simpson might get one last opportunity to overtake his friend. He was put on the development list and sent to Triple-A Durham for the final week of the regular season, where an injury or a promotion could have led to him being activated. That didn’t come to pass, but more than anything, he was excited to pick the brain of an idol of any speedster, the aforementioned Billy Hamilton, who was signed by the Rays recently.

“It’s going to be an amazing opportunity,” Simpson said. “I used to watch Billy Hamilton highlights before my high school games, my college games. I watched him during the season. It’s going to be a little hard not to fanboy him. I have to keep my calm when I meet him.

“He stole 155 bags in one season in Double-A. That’s going to be my first question I ask him: What was he trying to do when he stole all those bags.”

Information he’ll use, no doubt, to try to top Scott in the category in 2024.